They did a pretty complete service. I decided to take the plunge this week because this is the week that they read the 10 commandments. It seemed like something I could stand to hear, not that I have any intention of murdering anyone this year, but it's good to be reminded that I shouldn't.
Note: This is turning out to be more of a play-by-play than a highlight real. I'll add some cut tags.
I've been going to the synagogue to play Mahjongg (as previously mentioned at some point, but probably with a different spelling), so this is just like the next step for me. I woke up early (as one should do), did my learning, finished a book I was reading and headed there by the long slow way. Using the long slow way (it's probably longer time-wise, but I'm less likely to screw it up) during the daytime for the once, I was able to see a way to make it a shorter way and decided to take that way on the return trip.
Because of the way I came in, I ended up walking through the back of the sanctuary on my way to coat room. Actually it's a less a function of the way I came in and more a function of the fact that they were expecting a big crowd for the Rabbi's son's Bris directly after the service.
Yes, it's legal. Even though it's a process involving things like cutting and bloodletting which would normally be prohibited on the Sabbath, it is permitted to perform any action that supports a Shabbat circumcision, including traveling and preparation. I was actually just studying this set of Mishna this past week. It is, of course, preferable that the prep work be done in advance, but obviously circumcision, under normal circumstances, is a time-bound mitzvah, meaning that it must be performed on the 8th day. [Abnormal circumstances, in case you're wondering include the baby being born at twilight on Friday night, twilight on Saturday night, illness, the presence of male and female sexual organs, and confused twins in a case where was born on Sabbath, the other in either twilight, or after shabbat, but you don't know which is which.]
After one week of studying these law at purely the most superficial level, I won't claim to be an expert, but if you have further questions, you can always ask. I'll freely admit if I don't know the answer.
That was disconcerting, but it did give a chance to figure out they'd just started services. I hung my coat and went to go hunt up a book. I couldn't find any, only books for weekday prayers. Finally, I decided they must be inside the sanctuary. They were indeed. This may be my prejudices coming out, but for some reason, I always associated benches with built in book holders with Churches. To me they most resemble pews, and it's always slightly disconcerting to see them in synagogues. I recognize that this is an unreasonable attitude, after all, who hates the convenience of having the books there and not having to tote them in and out. And then there's comfort of knowing when you put the book down, you don't have to cast about for a place to put them, particularly as you can't put them on the ground, it's disrespectful.
Still I find it odd. Anyway, I locate Holly and Ellen, two of the people I play Majj with. Holly invited me to join them when I told her on Wednesday i was thinking of going for services, so I sat directly behind them.
The synagogue is very attractive, and when I first got in, I thought the doors to the ark containing the Torah scrolls was a lovely muted mosaic of bright attractive colors.
I caught up pretty easily. They were just about the finish the preliminary morning service. The biggest problem I had was my inattentiveness to the Rabbi's announcing the page. They didn't skip much, but just enough to confuse me periodically.
They did an abridged "songs of praise" section, but it wasn't bad. It got the majority of the prayers I consider very important, missing only "The Song at the Sea" (Last week's parsha!) .
Then the morning service proper began and there's nothing weird about it until the Standing benediction (Amida), which normally goes like this.
The congregation reads the entire thing silently.
Then there's the "repetition" where leader and the congregation do the first part (a page or two) together, followed by a responsive reading that mimics the angels praising G-d in Heaven. It's responsive because the angels praise G-d to one another, and so the leader the congregants praise G-d to each other.
Then the reader finishes reading the entire thing with some modifications such as he invokes the priestly blessing to bless the people.
What they do instead of the silent reading first, they start with the repetition. The leader and cong. sing the opening blessings together, then do the responsive reading, then finish with the silent reading, and skip the rest of the repetition, including the priestly blessing.
I'm going to pause at this point to comment that it probably sounds like I'm being critical, of the service, but I'm trying to be factual. I believe that I'm going back again, and the differences I'm noting are differences, but I'm not placing a value judgement on them. I haven't actually formed any judgments, I'm just getting down my observations and trying to capture my responses so I can continue to process my thoughts intelligently. Because I'm placing my observations against the background of what I'm used to, it may seem like I feel that any deviation from that is automatically bad. I don't believe that.
There's always a certain amount of adjustment to any new thing, and this is no exception. The differences are noteworthy to me because they're interesting and different. If I decide to join this synagogue, which I'm considering, I may delve deeper into the rational for certain decision, not with an eye to change them just for me, but to understand the choices they made. I've never seen anything wrong with asking questions like that. I don't feel that it makes me a harsh critic of anything.
Anyway. Enough energy spent justifying a position that no one has questioned.
The Torah reading. When they opened the ark, I realized that it wasn't a muted mosaic at all, it was frosted glass and the colors I was seeing were actually the Torah covers. This made me uncomfortable initially. But then I realized that I do sit down when the Torah is out and at rest during the Torah reading, so it's okay to sit down when it's at rest behind frosted glass.
They did the entire parsha. I liked that. Normally conservative synagogues, including this one, do their Torah reading in a three year cycle, breaking each parsha into three, and doing them sequentially. Because this is a small parsha, and it has the 10 commandments, the custom of this synagogue is to do the entire thing. Which is good because I would have been very bummed if I hadn't gotten to hear the 10 commandments. We all stood at one. The synagogue has a lot of natural light through the windows and the skylight and it was a sunny day so it felt very powerful and moving.
Another interesting custom of the synagogue is when they do the prayer for the recovery of the sick, the Rabbi starts the prayer, and while all the people will names line up on one side. She does the communal names for the sick congregants, and then, one by one, the congregants come up, take hold the Torah, and pronounce the name of the sick person. When everyone has recited the name over the Torah, she returns to the Torah to conclude the blessing. I thought that was incredibly sweet.
The rest of the service went much as the first part, leaving out only the "Hymn of Glory" which is an option song, but one I like. I imagine they do it generally, but might have skipped it for time considerations. Or they might not do it at all. I have no idea. I guess I'll find out next week.
The Rabbi wrote his own service and it was very nice. He and his family also seem very nice. They will not be there next week, because there's a congregation trip to Israel, and they're going. Can you imagine traveling to Israel with a 2 week old baby, and 2 older kids? Brave souls they are.
After the service was a festive meal to celebrate the Bris. Holly introduced me to more people, including the guy who started the monthly Bible study I'd expressed interest in. Then as things were winding down, a group of people started singing Shabbat songs. I picked up my bencher (book which contains, among other things, the songs) and started to sing along. One of the singers noticed and beckoned me over. I moved over to join them and sat at a different table. The singer who'd beckoned me and the guy next to him frowned at that and insisted with hand motions that I take the one vacant seat at their table. So I did, and we sang.
After a couple of songs, someone came over and told us that the other Rabbi (the one who's son had been circumcised) wanted us to move closer to him and sing there. So we did. And then we said the "Grace After Meals" for a post-circumcision meal, and I went home.
Thus ends my first experience.